Although most thru-hikers have already left Springer Mountain, backpacking season is just beginning for almost everyone else. Whether you're a thru-hiker, a section hiker, or a backpacker who only wants to spend a night or two on the Appalachian Trail, you may want to note that National Geographic has recently published a series of Topographic Map Guides for the world's most famous long-distance hiking route.
Just like all Nat Geo Trail Maps, each of the map guides in this series are waterproof, and are printed on rugged, light-weight, tear-resistant paper. When folded, the guide is similar in size to most Nat Geo Trail Maps: 4.25" x 9.25"
The Springer Mountain to Davenport Gap section, the first guide in this series, covers the trail through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This sectional guide is 48 pages in length, and includes 17 double-page maps. The first 10 maps cover the Appalachian Trail south of the park, while the last 7 cover the route through Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
What I like about these guides:
* The elevation profiles at the bottom of each page, as well as the distances between key points along the route, are extremely helpful.
* Although I was a little skeptical at first, I believe the booklet format is a very convenient way to keep track of your progress each day, and for planning what's on tap the following day.
* The grid showing camping and water availability sites at the front of each guide, and the contact information for key agencies, will certainly make pre-trip planning a lot easier for most people.
What I don't like:
* Mainly the scale of the maps. At 1:63,360 (or 1 inch = 1 mile), I thought the scale was a little small. Although slightly larger than the overall Nat Geo map for the entire park (1:70,000), I would much prefer the scale that National Geographic uses for the two sectional maps of the Smokies. At 1:40,000 (or 1 inch = 0.6 miles), trail and terrain details are much easier to read on these two maps.
In a related critique, I would've also preferred that Nat Geo produce a guide dedicated only to the Smokies, given how popular this section of the trail is to both hikers and backpackers. In addition to thru-hikers, many people only backpack this section of the A.T., or use portions of it to create loop trips. In fact, I would say that if you plan to stay within the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains, you may want to consider purchasing the two sectional maps that cover the eastern and western portions of the park. The only downside to this option, of course, is that you won't have elevation profiles for the trail, or any of the other pre-trip planning data.